Skin creams that use hydroquinone as the primary bleaching agent are some of the most popular cosmetics in Ghana, where fairness is often associated with beauty and a person's social capital. Beginning in August, however, the Ghanaian Food and Drug Administration will ban the import of all bleaches containing hydroquinone, citing the potential health risks they pose to those who use them.
While topical applications of hydroquinone are sometimes prescribed by dermatologists in certain countries to treat uneven skin tone, the substance was banned in the U.S. in 2006 after the FDA concluded that it couldn't rule out whether or not it had carcinogenic properties. Though the creams are no longer sold in the U.S. or in many EU member countries, it's still commonly used across the world to achieve lighter skin tones.
"Concerning skin lightening products, we are saying that from August 2016, all products containing hydroquinone will not be allowed into the country," Ghanaian FDA communications head James Lartey told STARRFM. "From 2016, the acceptance for skin lightening products is going to be zero."
Even thought skin bleaching creams are popular in Ghana, there is a social stigma attached to publicly admitting that you actually use them given what attempting to lighten your skin actually means. A person could argue that skin bleaching is just another part of a beauty regimen meant to achieve a certain aesthetic. But when you take into account the countless advertisements that market the creams as a gateway to beauty and whiteness, though, the messaging comes across as an implicit condemnation of darker-skinned people.
The FDA's move to ban skin bleaching creams comes weeks after Bukom Banku, a popular Ghanian boxer who recently expressed interest in local politics, announced that he'd begun bleaching his skin in hopes of one day being appointed as the country's ambassador to Germany.
“I am bleaching my skin because when [President] John Mahama wins 2016 elections, he will make me Ghana’s ambassador to Germany," the boxer announced the local radio program Radio Gold’s Home Touch. "I am bleaching myself for German people to know that German people and Bukom Banku are one."